Martinez feeling strong, confident in shoulder

Cards won't push righty after late-season strain

Martinez feeling strong, confident in shoulder

JUPITER, Fla. -- The session was short -- about 15 pitches, Carlos Martinez estimated -- but the implications are much more significant for the Cardinals right-hander.

Martinez, as he has each of the last two seasons, begins Spring Training with something to show. This time, however, it's not proving that he's deserving of a rotation spot, but rather that he's healthy enough to fill the one set aside for him.

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After a winter of strengthening the right shoulder that ailed him last September, Martinez returned to the mound for the first time on Monday and repeated the exercise on Wednesday, the team's official report date for pitchers and catchers. Martinez has thrown solely fastballs to this point and estimated his effort to be at "80 percent."

With many at camp, Cards set sights high

Once command of his fastball returns, Martinez will begin mixing in his offspeed pitches and increasing the intensity.

"I'm so excited because I feel I'm coming back again soon," Martinez said. "I feel pretty strong. I've been working since November. I feel different than last year."

Manager Mike Matheny said the club does not plan to push Martinez as quickly as it has in recent years. The Cardinals want to protect against injury and feel confident in the stability of Martinez's shoulder before loosening the reins. The organization also realizes that it has enough time before Opening Day to proceed cautiously.

"It was smart that he was fluid," Matheny said after watching Martinez throw. "He wasn't trying to do too much, which I think is a step in the maturity, too. Especially a guy with horsepower, they always want to show it. He seems very regimented in what he's trying to accomplish."

Despite the slower buildup, Martinez, barring setbacks, is expected to be an active member of the rotation when the Cardinals break camp.

"I think right now he's right where he needs to be," Matheny said. "That doesn't even concern me a little bit. He should be in a good place when we take off, and that's what we're looking for."

Martinez threw a career-high 179 2/3 innings while making 29 starts as a full-time member of the rotation for the first time. The workload may have contributed to the shoulder strain, which presented itself late in the season. Martinez lasted six pitches in his Sept. 25 start and was a non-factor in the postseason.

He spent most of his offseason rehabbing at the club's Jupiter complex so that his work could be monitored.

"Now, I feel nothing at all," Martinez said. "Now I feel strong, and I think my shoulder is good."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.